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Top Syrian General Defects; Turkey Recovers Pilots Downed by Syria

Alessio Romenzi/AFP/Getty Images(LONDON) -- There have been numerous defections by members of the Syrian military during the country’s 16-month-long uprising, but President Bashar al-Assad suffered a personal embarrassment on Thursday when a general who was once a close adviser reportedly defected.

The Telegraph reports Brigadier Gen. Manaf Tlas, the top commander of Syria’s elite Republican Guard who also served as a member of Assad’s inner circle, has fled to Turkey.

The newspaper says a pro-Syrian government website confirmed Tlas had fled to Turkey, but downplayed the significance of his defection.  A security official was quoted as saying, “His escape does not mean anything.”

The report says Gen. Tlas comes from one of the most famous families in Syria.  

Opposition forces claim 15 generals have defected and joined the rebels in recent months.

Meanwhile, Turkey says it has recovered the bodies of two pilots whose jet was shot down by Syria on June 22.  A nationally-televised state funeral for the two is set for Friday.  The downing of the jet has strained relations between the two countries.

The pilots’ bodies and part of their jet’s wreckage was located with the help of oceanographer Robert Ballard and his team aboard the deep-sea exploration vessel Nautilus.  Ballard, of course, is best known for locating the wreck of the Titanic.

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